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Artist's depiction of the Mars Climate Orbiter.
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Courtesy of NASA

NASA Loses Climate Orbiter (Updated!)
News story originally written on October 4, 1999

The loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter has turned into a nightmare for NASA. The agency has released information blaming a mistake in measurements as the cause of the mishap.

The problem occurred when a team at Lockheed Martin submitted acceleration data in pounds of force. Unfortunately, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory assumed the numbers were in metric newtons. In other words, there was a mistake made in the units.

``It was embedded in the system from the beginning,'' said Tom Gavin, deputy director of JPL's space and Earth science program. ``We're still looking at why it was not detected.''

``People sometimes make errors,'' said Edward Weiler, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's associate administrator for space science. ``The problem here was not the error, it was the failure of ... the checks and balances in our processes to detect the error. That's why we lost the spacecraft.''

The spacecraft was lost when it flew too close to the Red Planet. It was supposed to study Mars' climate for 687 days. Scientists believe the orbiter burned up in Mars' atmosphere.

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